A few days ago, Shakespeare fans around the world united in commemorating the 400th anniversary of his death. Readings, plays, exhibitions, mock sword fights, Elizabethan crafts, video testimonials – something for everyone, much like the Bard himself. The Folger Shakespeare Library, a GG+A client with whom I’m honored to partner, orchestrated many of these events and more, including terrific live testimonials on CSPAN 2 Book TV.
The Folger’s celebrations – which include an ongoing, year-long First Folio tour in all 50 states – struck me as a joyous and authentic way to engage a broad audience both in Shakespeare’s enormous and enduring power and in the Library’s noble mission to advance the performance, exhibition, and research of his work. The videos collected on the Library’s “Share Your Shakespeare Story” website illustrate that people of all backgrounds and ages find in his writing much that resonates today.
That vibrant, living legacy is all the more remarkable given that Shakespeare died before the birth of the Age of Enlightenment. The same year Shakespeare died, Galileo was officially admonished for the heresy of asserting that the Sun was stationary, and Pocahontas arrived in England with her husband, John Rolfe, and their infant son. Around the world, witches were being hanged and burned.
Shakespeare’s world – turbulent and chaotic, yet pointing toward a more promising horizon – was not so unlike our own. Dr. Michael Witmore, the Folger’s director, published a persuasive short essay tying Shakespeare’s relevance to our world and the universality of his themes. Four hundred years seem not to matter so much when the world’s greatest storyteller is tackling the largest human issues: Love, loss, betrayal, sorrow, and forgiveness are never “solved” and never out of fashion. As Dr. Witmore asserts, “Shakespeare belongs to all of us. A traveler with no passport, he stands at the edge of a vast world of the imagination, of history, and of the human heart.”
Bravo, and thank you to the Folger Shakespeare Library, for making the most of this moment and for reminding us all of Shakespeare’s abiding beauty, wisdom and purpose.